It is summer in Tokyo. Claire finds herself dividing her time between tutoring twelve-year-old Mieko, in an apartment in an abandoned hotel, and lying on the floor at her grandparents' daydreaming, playing Tetris, and listening to the sounds from the street above. The heat rises; the days slip by. The plan is for Claire to visit Korea with her grandparents. They fled the civil war there over 50 years ago, along with thousands of others, and haven't been back since. When they first arrived in Japan, they opened Shiny, a pachinko parlor. Shiny is still open, drawing people in with its bright, flashing lights and promises of good fortune. And as Mieko and Claire gradually bond, a tender relationship growing, Mieko's determination to visit the pachinko parlor builds.
Begins in a whirl ... In just a few sentences, using nothing but visual description, Dusapin plunges her readers into both the novel’s setting and Claire’s jangled state ... Dusapin explores the blurrier borders of language. Despite its tumultuous opening, the novel is a slow, meditative portrait of one woman finding herself, as well as a moving reflection on language’s capacity to divide us from others — and ourselves ... Gets its power from emotion, not events ... Much of the pleasure of reading The Pachinko Parlor in English comes from Higgins’s delicate translation. It’s a formidable challenge to translate a novel that deals so centrally with language, and Higgins manages to call the reader’s attention to both the beauty of Dusapin’s writing and the linguistic and cultural switching that demands so much of Claire’s energy.
Dusapin assembles her themes: absence and abandonment, cultural history and identity, belonging and otherness, language and connection ... Dusapin, 29, is developing a distinctive style with signature motifs that interconnect her work. Fragmentation, recurring imagery and a flair for evoking atmosphere so effective that lassitude seems to seep through the pages recalls Deborah Levy’s writing ... Pathos infuses the novel, as Claire feels worlds apart from her grandparents, witnessing the insularity and disorientation of old age ... If you’ve read Dusapin’s debut, the shape and mood will feel a little too familiar. Nonetheless, this is a masterclass in narrative control and subtlety, exemplified by the currents eddying beneath the surface of relationships and Claire’s dawning understanding of the scars left by her grandparents’ pasts. Dusapin is clearly an exceptional writer – sharply focused, delicate – but she could shake things up next time.
The Pachinko Parlour comes with high expectations. It doesn’t disappoint ... The novel is also intrinsically atmospheric, permeated by vague, or not so vague, discomfort rather than mere disquiet ... Readers who know Winter in Sokcho will find much that is familiar, and not just the efficiency of language and mastery of observant detail. There is the similar linguistic and cultural dislocation, an emphasis on food and seafood in particular, and the intergenerational awkwardness. But The Pachinko Parlour is darker and even more ambiguous.